Sense & Sensibility (2008) - Masterpiece Theatre Adaptation of the Beloved Classic Tale is Perfection

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sense and Sensibility

As a result of this BBC/ITV production, fans were given one costume drama that left its targeted audience in a tizzy of anticipation for its release date (or it did me!). Turns out, such an adaptation is the epitome of a cinematic masterpiece. Although I absolutely loved it after an initial run-though, each viewing endears it as one of the greatest miniseries – ever.

Mourning the death of a beloved father and husband, the Dashwood family find themselves in even more difficult circumstances by having the misfortune of being female children which enabled the law to dictate that their father’s vast fortune and estate is passed to their elder stepbrother, leaving his three daughters with little resources. Eldest Elinor (Hattie Morahan) is the practical sister who, although unsettled at the idea of moving and starting over looks at their situation realistically, aware that they have little to live on despite her mother (Janet McTeer) desiring to reside in a respectable estate. Upon the arrival of stepbrother, John and his wife Fanny whom none of the Dashwood ladies are fond of, they are forced to live under insufferable circumstances as Fanny plays mistress of Norland and constantly gloats about their new inheritance. The one redeeming happiness in their situation comes when Fanny’s eldest brother, Edward (Dan Stevens) visits the estate. 
Sense and Sensibility 2008

Edward delights his hosts with his quiet charm and politeness so different than his snobby sister. Youngest daughter Margaret (Lucy Boynton) finds him a dashing male figure to look up to and Marianne (Charity Wakefield) – the more passionate romantic, finds Edward dull by comparison. But any romantic notions Edward and Elinor may feel are soon thwarted by Fanny’s warnings of Elinor’s unworthiness, forcing Mrs. Dashwood to accept a reasonable offer on a cottage owned by her jovial cousin, Sir John Middleton (Mark Williams). Settled into their new seaside haven, the women are soon thrown into turmoil with broken hearts and scandal, all of which ties them to the lives of the roguish, handsome Willoughby (Dominic Cooper) and the older, patient Colonel Brandon (David Morrisey)…

Tears and sorrow, happiness and laughter follow as these women navigate their lives in regency London amidst the scandals (and scoundrels!) seeking to take advantage of their penniless circumstances. Because the award-winning 1995 version was my introduction to Sense & Sensibility, it will always be “special,” but I have to say with subsequent viewings, this is the more favorable version – it’s a breathtaking, lavish production. Anytime, Andrew Davies is involved we are assured a treat where the screenplay is concerned. His writing has always been the most complementary to Jane’s material, and he does not make this adaptation his one flaw instead it is just one of his many jewels.

Much speculation, criticism and praise has been heaped on this miniseries in equal parts. Fortunately, I feel that I’ve been able to look objectively at what isn’t up to par while giving credit where its due namely in the places it improved upon. Speaking strictly from a cinematic perspective, this is gorgeous. Scenery is rustic with natural seaside beauty. Putting the Dashwood's on the seashore might have been insignificant but it lends itself to some lovely, romantic, poetic, mournful and reflective moods. Camera angles are artistically well-realized and each sets the stage for whatever mood is appropriate. Naturally, the score blends well with the camera work. Likely, the greatest source of debate has been the cast. Most everyone argues that superstars Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Kate Winslet are superior to anyone else and therefore untouchable. Honestly, I think everyone in this new cast has officially won me over…

There is no question that Edward and Elinor’s interaction is greatly improved over Emma and Hugh’s portrayals, most especially Hugh Grant. The cute first meeting scene, for example, between Edward and Elinor , is full of magnetism and charm whereas Marianne and Brandon’s initial meeting (who doesn’t love the moment when the Colonel first spots Marianne?) is most memorable in the nineties version. Staying with the earlier version, I have to say, I also don't care for Elinor and Edwards’ proposal scene in; it's played much better by Hattie and Dan.

Staying with the marvelous cast, another pro is the cast being closer in age to their represented character’s; Hattie, Charity and Dan are better cast (especially in Dan’s case – Grant was just disastrous!) while David has a tough road to master since Alan Rickman was the epitome of Colonel Brandon.  Mary and Margaret Dashwood are wonderfully portrayed in the capable hands of Janet and Lucy; Janet allows Mary grieving but she proves a capable woman unlike Gemma Jones (she played far too weepy a mother for my taste). Youngster Lucy Boynton sparkles as “Meg” allowing her a larger role than previously – the camera just loves her on-screen presence. There are several witty lines that Lucy had some of which are complaining about her step-cousin having “stolen” her pony, and another is her threat to “poison” Fanny should she come to live with them.
Sense and Sensibility

Intricacies are better explored meaning we are able to experience insignificant scenes play out. For example, we see Willoughby beg Elinor for forgiveness and an audience with Marianne. (This offers a kind of final “reckoning” between him and Marianne through Elinor.) Bottom line, if you still haven’t seen this, I just need to say this – what is wrong with you?? True, there is the risk it may surpass the version that holds a special place in your heart, but ohmygosh, it's worth it. If there is one downfall it can be the costuming. They aren’t always to usual standards being occasionally uncomplimentary on the actor. Several gowns are simple but elegant, and for the most part offers little disappointment. Apart from the one (opening credit) scene some might find tacky, this is all-age appropriate for those younger sisters. (Opening, there is a mildly suggestive love scene;a man caresses a young girl, whispers in her ear and unties her laces – fortunately this minute long scene, if that can easily be fast-forwarded.)

Any lover of Austen won’t regret this purchase. There are differences and some of you may be “afraid” of how it will make you see the feature film, but it’s far too memorable to be missed. Even though an oft-retold and re-made story, the capable acting and filmmakers made this seem a fresh take of a classic. And that is something I usually wouldn’t say. 

What are your thoughts about this version? Has it grown on you or do you find it to be mainly "rubbish"? Share any thoughts below! 

(This post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I'll receive a percentage of the sale. Read the disclosure page for details.) 
You can buy Sense and Sensibility digitally on Amazon Video or purchase on DVD


  1. I love this version, particularly its Elinor and Edward -- but Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman rule my heart as Marianne and Brandon; the couple in the miniseries cannot even come close to their perfection, so for their half of the story, I like the Hollywood film better -- for Edward and Elinor, I like the miniseries. =)

  2. I love nearly everything about this adaptation...

    Edward and Elinor are "leaps and bounds" better than Hugh G. and Emma T. in the 1995 version. It took me a while to warm up to David as the Col., but I think he is marvelous in the role now (minus the moment when Alan Rickman first spots Marriage - that cannot be duplicated!). I do see what you mean though and to some extent completely agree with you.

    Now, I just want to watch this one again - am I always saying that!? =D

  3. I love this miniseries, but I think I agree with Charity -- if I'm really setting out to pick favorites, I love this version's Elinor and Edward, but prefer the cinematic version's Marianne and Brandon.

  4. Overall this version is my most favorite, Ruth. There is something magnificent about it and the fact that Davies is attached makes it all the more worthwhile.

    Most people feel the 1995 version can never be "replaced," I however, would beg to differ with them. ;D

  5. I'm going to agree with you Rissi, this new mini-series version is wonderful. The relationships were more fleshed out (course they had more time to invest in it) and while I liked the 90's version the chemistry between Emma T and Hugh just seemed off...they just didn't seem to be a plausible couple...The new couple---perfect. And you know, while I liked Alan Rickman as the Col, and Kate W, I have to say I like the newest couple better. I thought Alan a bit stiff in the old version. Not a lot of chemistry between the two while I thought it was just right with this version. David is a cutie and I just love the duel scene they added. A man defending my honor with a sword––yes please! :))


  6. Your thoughts are mine exactly, Jeanine.

    Hattie and Dan are wonderful together as Elinor and Edward. I love that there is so much more time for development in this one - it makes it all the better. I did like Alan Rickman though... but overall, this miniseries is my most favorite of the two - and the earlier version from BBC is just... well, terrible all-around. =)

    I like that scene of David (Col. Brandon) engaging in a sword fight, too. It's fun without being too campy - and you are so right. ;D


Have a thought? Don't be shy, go ahead and leave one... or two... or three! I reply to every comment. If you're new to the blog, please don't hesitate to introduce yourself and your blog - we love chatting around here!

Feedback and every comment is appreciated and read - I always leave a response; your opinions are respected and I ask that you show mine the same courtesy.

(If you post under “anonymous,” please leave a name. If you don't have a Google account, you can type your name into the Name/URL and if you have no site, just leave "URL" blank.)

If you are still reading my ramblings, thank you for following this little blog and for being one of its supporters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you, friends!

Latest Instagrams

© Finding Wonderland. Design by FCD.